I am a big fan of rollerblading and sadly it is a sport game industry seems to ignore. I have been waiting long time for a new rollerblading game to be developed and that time has finally arrived. Recently I had the pleasure to interview video game developer Jelle Van den Audenaeren about his new rollerblading game On A Roll and its Kickstarter campaign.
Greasyjoystick: Where are you from and what is your relationship with rollerblading? Do you skate yourself?
Jelle: I’m from Belgium and I live in a small town called Duffel, which apparently is known for being the origin of the “Duffle coat”. Our town used to have a really narrow, but rather tall halfpipe which is where I first started skating about 17 years ago.
Greasyjoystick: The last rollerblading game was Aggressive Inline 13 years ago, what did you think of that game?
Jelle: Well technically there were 2 major rollerblading games that were released around the same time. The last one was Rolling for PS2/Xbox in 2003, though it was only released in Europe. I mostly played that game and as mentioned in my Kickstarter video I’d been dreaming of a game like that every since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came out. Needless to say I was super excited when it came out. Even though the graphics were a little sub par for the standard back then, I played the hell out of it. In fact I still play it occasionally to this day., but the game felt a little bit stiff to me. The characters seemed to accelerate way too fast, causing me to unintentionally hit each and every obstacle in the course, for the first couple of hours. Overall the game was lacking some polishing, but I heard rumours about Rage Software: the developer of Rolling went bankrupt before being able to finish the game, so I suppose that might have got something to do with it. Even with all of its flaws I still loved it, plus it was the last rollerblading game ever made.
Jelle: To be honest I don’t really feel like rollerblading is that mainstream right now :). Except for fitness maybe.
Why is that? Well some say Tony Hawk’s is to blame for releasing his pro skater game franchise. Soon after the first one hit the market, a lot of kids went and got themselves a skateboard. Some of those kids might have been rollerbladers. Not sure if those games are to blame, but skateboarding did cast a pretty big shadow on the rollerblading industry. Others say it was this little gay joke: ‘What’s the hardest part about rollerblading? Telling your parents you’re gay…’ That pretty much killed the entire image of Rollerblading. Leaving a bunch of mostly really insecure people, who cringe at anything that even hints at making their sport look gay :). Standup comedian Bill Burr even has a bit about it which is truly hilarious. My opinion though, I don’t know, Rollerblading was a trend and trends come and go like waves. Though for me it just stuck, having wheels attached to your feet and knowing how to use them brought about a feeling of freedom unlike any other.
Greasyjoystick: How does the rollerblading scene compare from North America to Europe and the rest of the world?
Jelle: Well I’m no expert, but the North American scene has got a huge history with the sport. Pretty much every trick in the rollerblading book originated there, plus they had the X-games and a lot of the ASA comps were held there and pretty much any decent rollerblading video back in the day came from the US. I feel like for the longest time the US was inventing the sport, setting new trends and the rest of the world would pretty much copy what they did. Other than that, Architecture in Europe and the US is quite different. Most of the US was built much more recently, so most of the US skate spots look like they have nice smooth surfaces whereas European skate spots often have very rough surfaces such as cobblestones, making them a bit trickier to skate. This might have had an influence in the way we skate. For a long time I feel like the US scene was way ahead of the rest, though it might be leveling out a bit more these days.
Jelle: I started developing On a Roll, just for fun really, which I guess is how any creative project – big or small – should start out. I never had any plans of it becoming this big, let alone releasing it to the public or doing a Kickstarter. In fact, my very first prototype consisted of a cartoon bear model (which I had laying around from a different game) in a T-pose getting some air on a simple halfpipe. Not in a million years would I have thought it would turn into what it is today. My vision for the game just kept expanding and expanding until I’m now at this stage where I feel like, if I ever want to finish this thing the way I envision it, within a reasonable amount of time, I’m going to be needing a team and of course a budget so instead of this being my after hours project I could be working full-time on it and who knows, maybe I could start spending some actual time with my lovely wife and 2 kids. Not everyone seems to understand though that it’s just me developing this game and that I’m not some big shot developer looking to make a quick buck. If I was I probably wouldn’t have chosen Rollerblading to begin with. On a Roll really is a passion project to me. I just want to make the best rollerblading game I can imagine.
Greasyjoystick: How big is your team and in what stage is the game’s development currently in?
Jelle: At the moment, it’s just me really. I do the coding, models, lighting, shading, texturing, processing the mocap data and 3D scans, the whole thing. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had any help along the way. I’ve had plenty of people helping me here and there, like for example I met this really passionate audio engineer at a local Indie developer event called the Indie Game Salon where he saw an early prototype of On a Roll in action and we pretty much immediately hit it off and he offered to do some audio recording sessions for me because he felt it was a nice project. In fact when I do make my funding I will hire him to do further recordings for the game. There were several other instances where wonderful people helped me out with aspects of the game which weren’t exactly my area of expertise. I’d like to thank these people for their generosity and for helping the project along. Their names are listed on the Kickstarter project page for On a Roll.
Currently the game is in a pre-alpha stage. Now what does that mean: well I finished pretty much all of the main game mechanics/movements/tricks, but a lot of it needs tweaking and polishing. One area where it clearly needs polishing is e.g. the animation transitions. I’m fully aware that they can be quite harsh from time to time. Apart from that the environment of the game is quite limited at the moment. So I’m obviously looking to expand that. And more gameplay objectives need to be added as well.
Jelle: For starters there’s the movement of the character: I wanted to capture every little nuance of the feet of a real rollerblader. Now I could have spent countless hours watching videos and animating everything by hand, but I didn’t see the point if I could just as well use a motion capture system to record all of that in real time. I know the integration of the mocap into the actual game isn’t quite there yet, most of it has to do with animation transitions. You see doing mocap for video games is not the same as for a movie. There you just record a whole continuous motion whereas here the skater starts striding, rolls up to an obstacle, jumps on it and grinds it. In games all of that would be cut up into little animation clips so that each of those clips can be used in multiple situations. For example you could re-use the tuck and jump clip of a top soul grind for a similar grind, say an X-grind. So after recording all these little clips it’s a matter of seamlessly putting them back together in such a way that they would work for as many situations/tricks as possible.
Besides the movements I also felt like no existing rollerblading game had ever managed to capture some intuitive feeling controls. So that’s something I really gave a lot of thought and was not that easy to do given the sheer amount of tricks that are possible on skates. I wanted to move away from memorizing crazy button combo’s just to do like a backflip or something. You need to be able to enjoy the game and not have to be thinking: “hey I know I want to be doing this trick on this obstacle which I’m rolling up to, if now I could only remember what the secret combination was to actually do it”. So one of the things I’m pretty proud of are the controls for grinding. In rollerblading there are countless foot placement combinations, so I thought what if I could create a system where you wouldn’t really have to think about what’s the button combo for this foot placement, but instead all you need to know is how you want to place your feet and then you could derive from that the actual button combination. The most logical way to do this is by having each foot controlled by a separate analog stick. Basically you would then point the analog stick in the direction you want to point your foot. So the simplest example of this would be: doing a left footed makio grind, which is just one foot aligned with the direction of the rail/ledge, all you would have to do is point the left analog stick up before locking on and that’s it. Now what if you wanted to do a royal grind where both feet are perpendicular to the obstacle? Well just point both analog sticks to the side, that’s it.
Greasyjoystick: What was it like motion capturing skaters for the game?
Jelle: If you’re a skater and you remember a time earlier on when you weren’t all that good at it and then there were always these guys, just killin’ it, doing any trick they came up with on whatever obstacle they came across. Now I know a lot skaters would have wanted to ask this guy: “Hey could you do this trick or could you backflip that obstacle etc.” I know because I’ve heard many kids say it. Now that’s pretty much what it feels like to be directing these motion capture sessions, except I actually could tell them which tricks to do. So basically I had a huge list of tricks which all needed to be recorded, some simple some not that simple. I would just say: alright next we have a top acid grind or now it’s time for some 720 spins and the mocap skaters just did all of those tricks and they did em really well too. In fact most of the tricks were landed first try. I was really lucky to be able to work with such awesome talent!
Jelle: At the moment I don’t have that many. Mostly because the entire production process of the game up until now has been funded with my personal savings. Now motion capturing and 3D scanning can be really expensive, especially if you don’t have your own equipment. A one day recording session – which usually isn’t enough to capture all moves of a single skater – costs about 3000 euros and a 3D scan roughly about 1500 euros. So this adds up pretty quickly if I wanted to have say 20 pro skaters in the game that would end up costing about 90.000 euros and that’s just to record and capture them, this doesn’t even include all the costs of processing all of the data and scans, travel expenses for the pro’s, etc. Which is also part of the reason I wanted to do this Kickstarter: to hopefully put a lot more pro skaters in it.
But to answer your question more directly, we currently have Antony Pottier and Manon Derrien from the Seba pro team and Francis Ali who’s skating for BladeLife.
Greasyjoystick: Street sports games are noted for having great soundtracks, particularly the Tony Hawk series, who is composing your soundtrack and what kind of soundtrack is it?
Jelle: We’ve got multiple artists who’re all contributing to the soundtrack, the idea is to appeal to a very broad audience which obviously has many different tastes in music, so I’m hoping that everyone will at least find one track that appeals to them.
We have Ian Ketterer from the band Faintly, we have local talent Joris ‘Dhooghe from the band ‘The Nomad brothers’ and ‘Voodoo shop’, there is Luc Van den Audenaeren who’s got close to 50 years of musical experience and then we also have D-Millz who will be be bringing some hip-hop tracks to the game’s soundtrack.
Jelle: I’m no expert but again the extreme sports game genre was pretty much defined by the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series. As a result I have the impression that a lot of people felt like rollerblading games were just a cheap THPS rip-off to make a quick buck. There have been endless debates about why rollerblading isn’t as popular as it used to, to be honest I really can’t tell. But from a developer perspective, I must say I was expecting a bit more support from the rollerblading community. The On a Roll Facebook page has been steadily building an audience over the past 1,5 year to a point where we now have over 11.000 people following the game’s progress. But when it comes to supporting the game barely 500 of the people on that page have backed the Kickstarter. I mean I’m sure they all have their good reasons, but if all rollerbladers are that reluctant to spent a little bit of money on something they truly love, I can understand why a big developer might ignore this market.
Greasyjoystick: Is there anything you want to achieve in rollerblading outside of the game, like what the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series did for skateboarding?
Jelle: It would be amazing if the game could bring more people to our sport again, however I believe it will take more then just one man with a mission. Although I’ve noticed there has been a great deal of interest in the game from none rollerbladers, especially while we were in the process of being greenlit on Steam, there were lots of super encouraging messages about On a Roll coming from people who clearly weren’t involved in the sport. So who knows right?
Other than the game, my only mission in rollerblading is to have fun, preferably a late night summer session with a few of my closest friends, that’s all I need from rollerblading :).
Jelle: The game is scheduled to release September 2016. Which platforms it will be released for will greatly depend on the budget we manage to raise with our Kickstarter campaign. The reason why it costs more to release a console title is quite simply because the game would have to be ported to these different platforms. This is a time consuming process which involves quite a bit of changes specific to each platform. I’m really hoping to release it on as many platforms as possible, because I want everyone to be able to enjoy this game. That’s also why I decided to organize this competition (where people are able to win the chance to become a character in the game complete with their exact looks captured by a 3D scan and their own skating style using mocap), to motivate people to chip in and have these console versions guaranteed.
That said, the game will definitely be released for PC/Mac/Linux and will support the use of Console controllers, in fact it is recommended to use some sort of controller. So if you then just hook up your PC to your big screen TV, there really won’t be any difference between that experience and the console experience.
Everyone who backs the Kickstarter automatically gets access to the early game prototype when the campaign ends successfully.
Greasyjoystick: Where can people find you?
Jelle: At the moment my studio is my home office in Belgium, that’s where I’m developing the game for now. I might move into some bigger office space if the project requires it, but up until now I’ve managed just fine from here.
You can find lots of info on the Kickstarter page, if you feel this game could be something you’d one day want to play, don’t hesitate and pre-order it now through that page, because the game will be more expensive after it’s been officially released. So have a look.
Greasyjoystick: Best of luck with the Kickstarter, I really look forward to seeing the game.
Jelle: Thank you! And thanks for this opportunity!
You can find Jelle Van den Audenaeren on Twitter @onarollstudio and his Kickstarter and updates on the game’s progress at the links below.